Why Eat Wild Edibles

     For years we only thought of “Wild food" as a means of survival in an emergency or when camping. But as our family began to use them more in our regular eating, we realized that there were many advantages to them becoming a part of our food supply. Many of the “wild” things we use are not truly wild but feral (domestic plants growing wild).

The bruises and worms "certify" their organic 

Many feral foods are familiar to most people who don’t think of themselves as “wild food foragers.” For example, we used wild apples (which are really domestic apples, just not maintained by a farmer) for eating, drying, cider, applesauce, jams, etc. 

Fresh Pressed Feral Apple Cider

Some years we would press over a hundred gallons of feral apples (sometimes mixed with wild grapes) and dehydrate bushels of apples. Most people like us pick all kinds of wild berries (the same thing as domestic berries).
On our honeymoon, we stayed at a place with so many blackberries around that we couldn’t stand letting them go to “waste.” But, of course, we hadn’t brought canning or freezing equipment, so we mashed them and made fruit leather in the oven.

   We also collect “wild asparagus” (again, just domestic asparagus gone wild), wild plums, and one of our all-time favorites that are big down south- ramps (often called wild onion or wild garlic). We gradually added things to our salads (a significant part of our diet) and other items such as cattails, nettle (another favorite), violet leaves and flowers, etc. 
     We regularly forage in areas around our city. Also, at home, we often allow wild flora (er, "weeds") to grow wherever they choose. Wild flora usually has superior nutritional qualities, whether eaten cooked or raw. Gathering your own wild foods and herbs has many benefits. It is a great way to avoid the drawbacks of agribusiness production practices of genetic engineering, commercial fertilizer, pesticide, herbicide, lack of freshness, fungicide, wax, transmissible diseases, etc. It's also good for us to get out in the fresh air, exercise, and spend time in a pleasant environment. 

Following are several reasons to learn to identify and use wild plants for food and medicine:
  • Truly eating local: Hard to get more local than this!

  • Economy: With high supermarket prices, wild edible plants can be great budget stretchers. They can also help you save on costly vitamins and supplements.  And you will save on the high cost of health care too!

  • Nutrition: Wild foods are so rich in vitamins and minerals that they are nutritional powerhouses and have been called a tonic rather than a food. They tend to be richer sources of nutrients than domestic plants. They are so full of vitamins, minerals, and trace minerals that they act like medicine in our bodies, preventing and reversing all manner of ills related to deficiencies in our modern diets. The standard grocery store produce is generally grown in depleted soils, shipped long distances, and in extended storage, losing nutrients all along the way. Not to mention all the chemicals used to produce, store, ripen, and keep it fresh. Many plants destined for the table are genetically engineered and hybridized, with saleability as the primary goal. Nutritional value, flavor, and other essential qualities are given less consideration. Wild edibles tend to be naturally strong, healthy, and adaptable.
  • Freshness
    Violets, the "wild vitamin pill."

    : Wild foods are fresh, often only a few hours between the harvest and the table. Aging produce loses its vitality quickly. Most produce comes from afar and thus must be at least a few days old. Vitamins and minerals are lost as fruits and vegetables sit on the grocery shelf.  Many objectionable things are done to produce to present a fresh appearance. Irradiation, refrigeration, fungicide, and wax promote the appearance of freshness long after an item would usually have shown signs of deterioration. Produce is explicitly hybridized to make it more marketing-hardy, and many things are picked
    before they are ready, so spoilage and bruising will be minimized during the trip from farm to store. Many farmers harvest the whole crop at once and then "preserve" it for the selling season. Due to cold storage, apples, stone fruits, and grapes may be weeks or months old by the time you consume them. Genuine freshness and peak readiness are assured when one knows and uses the local wild foods.

  • Avoid Pesticides/Herbicides/Fungicides: Soil, seeds, seedlings, growing/mature plants, fruits, and even packaging and storage facilities may receive doses of poison for one "reason" or another. In many cases, "they" don't have to tell us. Wild plants are, for the most part, free of chemical treatments of any kind. There are ways, of course, that wild flora can be contaminated. Cities, counties, and farms use pesticides and herbicides in areas under their jurisdiction. Select your wild food picking areas carefully!
  • Avoid Unnatural Fertilizer: Wild plants are fertilized in many natural ways via animal droppings, earthworm castings, and decaying organic matter such as fallen leaves. This natural plant food is delivered in balanced, appropriate amounts. Unfortunately, most store-bought foods are grown with chemical fertilizers. This doesn't mean that there isn't a role for humans to continue farming and finding the best ways to produce food. Those who have foraged extensively for wild foods know how much more food can be produced in a small area by a farmer. One must forage over miles of space to collect the same amount of wild food.
  • Wax: Many grocery produce items are coated with "food-grade" wax to retard spoilage. Grocers are not required to list the pesticides and fungicides added to the wax.
  • Irradiation: Some health food stores display signs proclaiming that they won't sell irradiated food, but they don’t have to say if they do. Spices are the primary type of food item that get this treatment. We can be confident that no wild foods have been irradiated. And many wonderful spices are growing wild.
  • Purity: Hands working on the food can pass E. coli, salmonella, and cold and flu types of illnesses. Tuberculosis is passed relatively easily through various social interactions. Those picking and handling the produce (even customers looking at it) may not have washed their hands or shielded the produce from sneezes and coughs, etc. Chances are, the wild foods you pick and consume will have been handled only by you and/or your family. But watch out for fecal matter from domestic or wild animals.
  • Psychological Benefits: Preparedness and the ability to be self-reliant can contribute to a general sense of well-being, ease, and worry and stress. Simply being in a meadow of wild flora can be joy-promoting. In addition, there is considerable psychological pleasure in gathering and producing your own food. 
  • Available everywhere: They are all around us. In a city or country, you can provide a wild feast. They also have a much longer growing season than farm and garden crops. They are available as soon as the snow melts until it blankets the ground again, whereas our first garden peas and lettuce aren’t ready until late May or June!
  • Abundant: Our wild foods are abundant and grow in such profusion that it is hard to overharvest them.
  • Wilderness Survival: Would you survive if you were lost in the wilderness?  People have starved to death while tramping on hundreds of wild edible plants.
  • Disaster Survival: It’s a secure feeling to know that if the grocery store were to close tomorrow or some major disaster cut off supply lines, the wild food is always there. Wild foods help reduce our dependency on centralized power and supply systems. If you were cut off by a natural disaster or civil unrest from getting food from the market, you could extend your food supplies with wild edibles. During times of war, many people survived because they knew about wild edible plants.
  • Backpacking and Wilderness Outings: One way to cut weight on that backpacking trip is to use wild edibles for a portion of your food. After days of dehydrated food--a fresh wild salad is a real treat!  Also, looking for plant friends as I walk makes the walk even more enjoyable.
  • Ecology: You will become more aware of ecology, which is discovering how the life cycle of plants relates to the life cycles of other plants and animals. Hopefully, you will also become a conservationist and perhaps even a gardener.
  • Less Work: It can be less work and more enjoyable than gardening or working at a job to buy groceries. Harvesting wild food can be less labor-intensive than gardening and farming.  Nature prepares the soil, planting, weeding, watering, and caring for your garden. Then, all you have to do is harvest!
  • History: You will have more appreciation for our ancestors' ways and want to help keep some of these ways alive through the study of ethnobotany.
  • Plantain is our most used "Medicine."
    Medicinal: With herbal medicine gaining in popularity, it is beneficial to learn the edible properties of a plant and its therapeutic value. You might also find yourself in a situation where no doctor is available. Then, not only is your health benefited but also your pocketbook!
  • Variety: Eating wild edible plants can add a pleasant change to your menu if you are tired of eating the same foods week after week. Discovering a greater depth of food flavors as you eat more wild edible plants is fun.
  • Hobby: Studying wild edible plants is a very fascinating hobby. With 300,000 plants worldwide and 120,000 considered edible, you won't run out of something to do for a long time. You will become attuned to the edible wild plants and look upon them as friends.
  • Good Exercise: Going “grocery shopping” in the fresh air, in beautiful places, and while getting exercise is healthy for your body and soul.
  • Gourmet: Wild edible plants can be made into exotic gourmet dishes. If you want to do something different, have a "wild" party and invite your neighbors in. They will be amazed at how delicious your wild edibles can be.

    Turkey Tail
  • Environmentally Friendly: Don’t have to add more pollution or use energy for farming equipment, watering, transporting, and storing it. Wild foods are drought resistant and don’t require watering. “Weeds” are much better equipped to handle extremes in weather than domestic plants. Collecting wild foods also helps you become more sensitized to the environment, more in tune with the seasons, and more aware of unfriendly practices like spraying, mowing, overgrazing, and pollution.
  • Moral and Spiritual: We will all bear the responsibility for what we have supported with our dollars. Though, probably, it's neither possible nor wise to utterly isolate oneself from the "evil world," one needs to exercise choice for the better at every opportunity. Learning about and harvesting wild foods and medicines is one way to remove dollar support from unsound business practices. Nature study is also an excellent way to learn about the Creator and is very restful to the soul of one who will take the time to listen to Him through the things He made.
  • For those who want to be Politically Correct: Eating wild foods grown locally, not unfairly using immigrant workers, eating organic, not using pesticides/chemicals, and being less dependent on the business of industrialized agriculture, makes a powerful statement.